Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chatty Californians

New Yorkers are simply not used to the level of friendliness of the people in the strange planet called California. People here are chatty and love conversation. The waiters talk to you, the restaurant hostess talks to you, the valet parking guy, etc. Everybody chats. In NY nobody ever tells you anything which is not germane to you sitting down, paying for dinner and making the table available for the next patrons, even if it is all done nicely. Nobody has the time or the inclination to know everything there is to know about you and your state of mind at the present moment. My New Yorker companion had a bit of culture shock every time we went to a restaurant and wait staff asked every 10 minutes if everything was okay. Chill out, I said. You are in California.
Unfortunately, one night we had the table neighbor from hell.
We are at a fancy, quiet, nearly empty restaurant in Palm Springs for a classy celebratory dinner, and in the table next to us (with an empty table between us) sits who I can only describe as The Ugly American.
He and his wife are evidently soused already. He wants to know where we are from. We oblige. I say NY, but because I have the accent of a Mata Hari, he then inquires about it. So I say Mexico. Then he simply cannot get over the fact that being blonde and blue eyed I am indeed a Mexican. It's as if I said I come from Venus bearing gifts. He asks the tall, white, green eyed Mexican waiter (for real) if he believes that I am a Mexican. The waiter graciously says "of course". This does not mollify this fat slob. Basically, the subtext is: "all the Mexicans I know are brown and poor, or servants, like the waiter here, so you cannot possibly be one of them".
With our unequivocal body language, we take our attention back to our table, hoping he'll take the hint. But the barrage of questions continues. He has never been to NY. Shall he rent a car in NY? No, we say, under no circumstances are you to rent a car in NY. Take the subway instead.
Oh, but the subway is intimidating. No it isn't. It's fast and cheap. He insists on the intimidating nature of our public transportation, the subtext being "I would not get my ass anywhere near the subway because black people will mug me".
It is clear that the moment he saw us arrive, he took the opportunity to stop talking to his equally disagreeable wife, who, we were forced to learn, was celebrating 7 years of marriage to this putz and each had grown children of previous, etc, etc.
The wife goes to the bathroom after telling him in slurred whispers to let us eat in peace. And then he starts again.
"If I went to NY, I would love to go there with people who could show me around. For instance, if you came to (the hellhole I call home), I would do that for you. I would host you in my house... the insinuation being that when he comes to NY he expects us to do the same.
I can tell this man has rotting garbage in his head. If he were in a David Lynch movie, rotting garbage would ooze from his ears. I know a lascivious bully when I see one.
And us, we are unfailingly polite throughout. Sometimes, politeness can be harmful to your health. I should have politely said that we wanted to have a private dinner conversation. But I didn't. This man ruined my meal and my night.
At one point we raised our glasses and said "salud" and he screamed "salud" at us from his table.
The wife then decided to go flirt with the Maitre d'. There are some long suffering saints in the California hospitality business, I can tell you that.
I wish I could say this story had Cheeverian overtones, but these people were so vulgar and so ignorant, the only correlation I can find are the mountain people in Deliverance, and I bet they had better manners.

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